How to Persuade CEO to Sponsor Proactive Data Governance

It’s hard enough to explain what governance means to people that work in digital, technology, and data roles. But what do you say to the CEO, the Board, or other business executives on data governance, why it’s important, where investments are needed, and how they must get involved in sponsoring these programs.

So in this week’s episode of 5 Minutes with @NYIke, I provide my three ways to explain data governance. I focus on creating a data vocabulary, limiting risks, avoiding costs from repetitive manual data wrangling, and creating the “back office” for data democratization through citizen data science.

How to Persuade CEO to Sponsor Proactive Data Governance - Isaac Sacolick

Data governance is a broad set of capabilities and responsibilities starting from sourcing data, to automating integration, transforming, enriching, storing, sharing access, enabling analytics, providing access to customers, and developing applications. Along with these flows, securing data, improving quality, creating master data sources, replicating, versioning, archiving, and ensuring data retention compliance. See my previous posts defining proactive data governance, the role of chief data officers, and developing citizen data science centers of excellence

If you can get the CEO on Board with data governance, you have a much better chance of getting reluctant business leaders to invest their people’s time and focus on this important issue. So with that in mind, I also asked several data experts for their perspectives on explaining data governance to the CEO.

1. Illustrare the Impacts of Poor Data Quality

Myles Suer, a leading CIO influencer, #CIOChat facilitator, eWeek contributor, and director at Alation, says that data intelligence and digital capabilities require reliable data. He says, “Today, value propositions and business models have moved to digital. The fuel for digital is data. And without trustworthy data, you lack the fuel to drive digheital forward. And this house of cards is built on data governance. Data governance simply put ensures you have data which is great, and data which once refined is protected.”

Valentina Botnari, product owner at Bonitasoft, agrees and says that CDOs must connect data quality with the reliability and trust leadership teams must have in their reporting and KPIs. She says, “We all say that our business decisions are based on information and KPIs, and data reliability is key to “going digital,” where we base automation of processes on well-defined business data models. That means good governance around data, and for example, keeping a protected master source of clean data is critical to making good business decisions.”

I agree with Myles and Valentina in using data quality and trusting data as the primary rationale to help CEOs, Boards, and other business executives buy into data governance objectives. Creating feedback loops between consuming data in decision making and data governance is one of StarCIO’s primary data-driven frameworks and is at the center of our citizen data science center of excellence programs.

2. Focus on the Risks Around Data Retention Policies

Bob David, CMO at Plutora, says, “CEOs need to understand that data and data governance are at the heart of every company. By not properly governing your data, you’re putting your company and your customers at risk as well as exposing yourself to significant legal risk.” 

Bob suggests focusing on data retention as a key area to raise. He says, “CEOs need to understand the many characteristics of data governance, including how fast data needs to be available after an outage, how long they are required to hold on to certain data, and when they can legally destroy data.” 

I agree with Bob and highlight the costs and risks of overly relying on manual, error-prone spreadsheets in this week’s video and with more details in my book, Driving Digital.

3. Never Waste a Crisis - Use Public Failures to Sell Data Security

Josh Stella, Founder and CEO of Fugue, says to use publicly disclosed breaches to gain awareness. “To ensure you have your CEO’s full attention, begin by telling the story of the former CEO of Imperva, an enterprise security company, who decided to resign shortly after his company suffered a massive data breach in 2019.” 

He continues, “The moral of the story is twofold: attackers use automation and AI technologies to find and exploit vulnerabilities in cloud environments to gain access to data. Implementing effective data governance that includes deploying automation technologies to keep cloud infrastructure free of misconfiguration vulnerabilities protects your organization from the bad actors seeking to expose or steal your data.”

Bob Davis agrees that CEOs must be aware of the risks in underinvesting in data governance and security. He says, “By playing fast and loose with governance, CEOs risk the consequences of valuable data getting out, which can include steep fines and—in particularly severe cases—even jail time.”

I think business leaders should be informed on how data and security impact other businesses. This may be the spark to bump data governance and security investments, but CIOs, CDOs, and CISOs must relate the opportunities and risks to their business to drive a sustainable program.

Dive into my options on explaining data governance to the CEO in this week’s video, and please reach out to me with your questions!

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.